What's the point? A critical eye on wine scores

Michael Ellis
By Michael Ellis
almost 2 years ago
5 min read

Ever wondered what those shiny medals and points assigned to wines mean? Probably not. It’s pretty self-explanatory, right? The more points the better the wine. And yes, points are allocated to wines based on qualitative measures, but for the consumer one important question remains – so what?

We’ve always maintained that a good wine is one you enjoy drinking regardless of price, reputation or perceived quality. However, being guided by a well-established and trusted opinion is a good place to start.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to the merit of judging wines. Some say that to maintain quality, we need to set benchmarks and acknowledge excellence in winemaking. Others will argue that to judge a wine and compare it with its peers is futile and irrelevant. There are too many variables and each wine is an entity unto itself. It’s like comparing your own children – you could, but why would you? 

Regardless of the emphasis you place on points, the fact remains they’re extremely influential when it comes to promoting and selling wines, and an important consideration for many wine buyers. Not to mention they’re due reward and recognition for those who strive endlessly in a pursuit of excellence in viticulture and winemaking.  

So with all that in mind, let’s address some common questions.

A pointy wine?

The most common scale for awarding points is the 100 point scale popularised by Robert Parker in the 80s. This has replaced the 20 point system that was once used in Aussie wine shows.

Wines are judged on a number of factors including how well they typify a specific variety or blend, how representative of a region the wine is and, of course, its overall quality. This is assessed by analysing the wine’s colour, aroma and taste.

Here’s how the Australian Wine Companion classifies points:

97–100 Exceptional. Wines that have won a major trophy or trophies in important wine shows, or are of that standard.

95–96 Outstanding. Wines of gold medal standard, usually with a great pedigree.

94 Wines on the cusp of gold medal status, virtually indistinguishable from those wines receiving 95 points.

90–93 Highly Recommended. Wines of silver medal standard, wines of great quality, style and character, and worthy of a place in any cellar.

89 Recommended. Wines on the cusp of silver medal standard, the difference purely a judgement call.

86–88 Wines of bronze medal standard; well-produced, flavoursome wines, usually not requiring cellaring.

Special value Wines considered to offer special value for money within the context of their glass symbol status.

84–85 Acceptable. Wines of good commercial quality, free from significant fault.

80–83 Over to You. Everyday wines, without much character, and/or somewhat faulty.

Who scores these wines?

Anyone can slap points on a wine, just like everyone has opinions on what they like and why. Free world, yeah? But while opinions of your friends are subjective and based on personal preference, wine critics and judges will take a more objective approach when analysing quality of a wine.

There are benchmark critics in the Australian wine industry whose reputation and consistency is well established. Judging remains a subjective exercise, but every effort is made to minimise variables by tasting wines in a controlled environment.

The renowned critics that we reference at the ‘Fo are established authorities in assessing and reviewing wine. They have worked and trained extensively to refine their palate and their reputation depends upon impartiality, consistency and integrity.

Are they consistent?

There’ll generally be a consensus amongst critics but points can and do vary, sometimes significantly. Some critics are known for rating wines relatively highly and conversely, others are less liberal with their point scoring.

Does a high score mean it’s a great wine?

In theory, yes. But whether you like it or not is another and arguably more important consideration. We’ve all drunk wines that are supposed to be excellent and we just don’t enjoy. It’s like music – you might appreciate the precision and skill of a symphony orchestra, but sometimes you just want to belt out Livin’ on a Prayer for the 500th time.

High points are a good place to start, but don’t discard wines without points or medals as there are just as many wines out there you’re likely to love that aren’t dripping with bling. Don’t forget that not every wine is going to be reviewed or judged either.  

Furthermore, wines that challenge traditional and conservative definitions of quality may not perform well in a show. For example, a cloudy, unfiltered wine will be judged as faulty. Be aware of the limitations of a judging system, particularly if you enjoy drinking wines that don’t conform to standards.

Wine show medals and awards

Wine shows are run in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural Shows in capital cities (Sydney Royal Easter Show, Royal Melbourne Show, The Ekka etc.). There are also plenty of smaller shows that may showcase regions, styles, alternative varieties etc.

For the major capital city wine shows, judging will take place over a series of days with a chair of judges overseeing individual panels, each consisting of a panel chair, experienced judges and an associate. Wines are judged in categories of grape variety and age, and medals are awarded as follows:

Gold medal for wines 95 + points

Silver medal for wines 90-94 points

Bronze medal for wines 85-89 points

Trophies are awarded to best wines in various categories as judged by panel chairs, as well as best white, red and wine of show.

Again, the most important judge is you. Get to know what you like and remember, it’s a drink.


Engage, explore, experiment and, most importantly, enjoy it!